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  • Boost the Relationship with yourself with 8 Self-Compassion Exercises

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May 31, 2024

Most of us know that we should be kind to ourselves, and yet it can be quite difficult to do so. For one reason or another, many of us struggle to care for ourselves with the same compassion we would offer to someone we love. For this reason, self-compassion exercises are crucial. They can help to enhance the relationship we have with our innermost self while also alleviating the weight of many all-too-common human struggles. For example, studies have found that high levels of self-compassion are linked with reduced psychological stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.

In this article, we'll explore the concept of self-compassion, we’ll discuss why it's important and how you can practice it in your daily life, and we'll also provide self-compassion exercises.

self-compassion exercises, Boost the Relationship with yourself with 8 Self-Compassion Exercises

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”

- Chris Germer-

self-compassion exercises, Boost the Relationship with yourself with 8 Self-Compassion Exercises

What Is Self-Compassion?

There are many different definitions of self-compassion. However, what it tends to boil down to is the following explanation put forth by Kristin Neff:

self-compassion exercises, Boost the Relationship with yourself with 8 Self-Compassion Exercises

“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”

- Kristin Neff -

For example, if we are going through a separation or are struggling to achieve some type of goal, self-compassion would invite us to turn inwardly with warmth and kindness. Rather than belittling ourselves, casting blame or judgment, or avoiding the subject matter all-together, we would acknowledge our suffering (however large or small) and support ourselves through it.

For many people, self-compassion is in contradiction to much of the messaging we received when we grew up (either from people around us or from society at large). We often tend to our suffering with harshness, criticism, or coldness, so self-compassion is quite the opposite. While it can take time to fully embody self-compassion as a way of being, we can practice it in any moment when we find ourselves struggling with something.

Self-Compassion Exercises

To get started with cultivating self-compassion, it’s helpful to be aware of some simple self compassion exercises. Begin with any of these practices that resonate with you the most. Each one contains step-by-step guidance as well as a resource that can further guide you through it.

Self-Compassion Break Meditation

This meditation is an informal practice for working with a mild to moderate challenge in your life. It works with the three components of self-compassion as outlined by Kristin Neff: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. It can help to shift the way we relate to ourselves amidst our own suffering.

You can follow the guidance below or listen to the guided self-compassion break led by Christopher Germer.

  • Settle into a comfortable seated position. Connect with the feeling of the surface beneath you and take a few moments to breathe mindfully.
  • Call to mind a challenge you’re experiencing that is mild to moderate in nature (a challenge that’s a level 3 or 4 in intensity on a scale from 1 to 10).
  • When you think about this challenge, sense into how it manifests in your body. Are there any specific sensations you become aware of?
  • Recognize this experience as a difficult or stressful situation as a way to validate its presence.
  • Connect with our common humanity, recognizing that other people who are going through this very same challenge may feel the exact same way that you do now. Acknowledge that you’re not alone in your suffering.
  • Next, bring a hand to the part of your body where you feel this challenge manifesting. Imagine a sense of care emanating from your hand and into that area.
  • Then imagine that someone you love was struggling with the very thing you’re struggling with now. What words of care would you offer to them? Offer those words to yourself now.
  • Cultivate mindfulness around how you’re feeling after you’ve moved through the above steps. Can you foster a sense of complete acceptance for how you’re feeling right now, without judgment or expectation?
  • Reconnect with your felt sense of the surface beneath you and open your eyes when you’re ready.

Breathing with Care Meditation

The breath is always nurturing us, and it’s a tool we can use to remind ourselves that we are supported and cared for. When we breathe with care, we are honing our awareness of the breath as a loving force, sensing into the fact that each breath is a compassionate one. This can strengthen our sense of being loved and supported. Breathing in this way is an act of self-care.

You can listen to the breathing with care meditation by Gillian Florence Sanger or you can follow the guidance below and try it on your own.

  • Find a comfortable seated or resting position. Connect with your felt sense of the surface beneath your body.
  • Take your time to gently quiet your mind and anchor your awareness in the present moment, either by breathing mindfully or attuning to that felt sense of the earth beneath you.
  • If you haven’t already, shift your attention to your breath. Breathe naturally and recognize that each breath is supporting and nurturing your body. As such, each breath is a loving breath.
  • Feel that you are loved and supported by the life force that flows through you. As you exhale, send that care back out to the world.
  • Continue to breathe with care for 5-10 minutes (or longer if you wish). With each inhale, imagine or sense that your body is filling with love, support and nurturance. With each exhale, offer it back out to all of humanity and the Earth as a whole.
  • When you’re ready, reconnect with the surface beneath you and slowly open your eyes.

Letter of Self-Compassion

Another self-compassion practice you might like to try is a letter writing exercise. It invites us to write a letter to ourselves from the point of view of someone who loves us - or from the perspective of the wise, higher self within. This type of practice can help us attune to the kindness we so deserve when we’re struggling to get past our own limited, conditioned mind.

Download this free letter of self-compassion exercise or follow the steps below.

  • To start, you’ll need a journal (or sheet of paper) and a pen. Settle into a comfortable and quiet space to reflect and write.
  • Call to mind something you judge yourself for, reflecting for just a moment on how this self-judgment makes you feel. It shouldn’t be something that leads you to feeling dysregulated or overwhelmed; start with something that is a mild or moderate object of self-judgment.
  • Next, call to mind someone who loves you - who doesn’t want to see you suffer or be harsh with yourself. It might be a friend, parent, or grandparent - or it could even be an image of your higher, wiser self within. It might be a pet or even something in nature, such as the Earth itself or a grand old oak.
  • Write a letter to yourself from this person or other being that you have imagined. What compassionate words of wisdom would they write to you in the face of your own self-judgment? Allow this letter writing to free flow - and if you find yourself slipping away from a voice of compassion and wisdom, take pause and ground yourself. Reconnect with what someone who has nothing but your highest good in their heart offer to you in the face of your self-judgment.

Why Are Self-Compassion Exercises Important?

Self compassion exercises are invaluable tools to enhance well-being. They can help to shift the way we perceive and speak to ourselves, cultivating a deeper sense of self-nurturance, care, and respect. Research in the field of self-compassion has found the following:

  • Self-compassion interventions enhance numerous measures of mental health. For example, self-compassion has been found to decrease anxiety, anger, fear, helplessness, and catastrophizing.
  • Higher levels of self-compassion are connected to enhanced well-being. Studies have found that self-compassion is positively correlated with feelings of happiness, optimism, curiosity, and connectedness.
  • Self-compassion is associated with interpersonal relationship benefits. For example, there is a positive association between self-compassion and secure attachment, adaptive parenting behaviors, constructive conflict behavior, and the overall functioning of romantic and friendship relationships.
  • Self-compassion is connected to increased emotional resilience and adaptive responses. Therefore, it can help us to more effectively manage or address stressful situations.

Exercises for self compassion can help us to nurture and grow our baseline level of self-compassion. Overtime, our efforts can enhance the way we relate to ourselves, planting the seeds of a more resilient, happier, and connected journey through life.

Common Myths About Self-Compassion

To better understand what self-compassion is, it can be helpful to explore what it isn’t. There are many different myths about self-compassion that can lead to misunderstandings about what it really entails.

Three core misunderstandings that some people have about self-compassion are:

Self-compassion is self-pity.

Many people associate self-compassion with self-pity; however, to care for ourselves with compassion does not mean that we ruminate on our misfortunes. Though compassion and pity are related, they are not the same. Compassion can help us to embrace and move through our challenges whereas pity carries a different energy, one that is not necessarily supportive of resilience.

Self-compassion is self-centered.

Another common myth is that self-compassion is self-centered or selfish. While self-compassion indeed requires us to turn inwards, it does not equate to a lack of concern for the world around us. It does not make us more important than others; in fact, when we are compassionate with ourselves, we are more likely to be compassionate with others.

Self-compassion will hinder my growth.

Furthermore, some people believe that to take pause for self-compassion will make one complacent to personal growth. For example, one might wonder: Will self-compassion make me indulge more frequently in unhealthy foods? Will it give me an excuse for poor behaviour? These questions and concerns are understandable, but true self-compassion brings us into greater alignment with our most genuine needs. It helps to quiet the inner critic, which leaves more room for our inner strength and wisdom to shine through.

Listen to Chris Germer Discuss the Myths of Self-Compassion.

self-compassion exercises, Boost the Relationship with yourself with 8 Self-Compassion Exercises

What Are The Three Components of Self-Compassion?

Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, outlines three core elements of self-compassion. These are understood as follows:

Self-kindness (as opposed to self-judgment)

When faced with a challenge, self-kindness directs us to tend to our struggles with tenderness and warmth. Being perfect or living a perfect life is not possible, and so with kindness, we recognize our humanity.

Common humanity (as opposed to isolation)

The second element of self-compassion is common humanity, which is an invitation to consider that we are not alone in our struggles. Whatever we are going through, others have struggled with as well. These challenges are a part of being human.

Mindfulness (as opposed to over-identification)

Lastly, mindfulness enables us to view our challenges as they are – without exaggerating or denying their existence. It helps us to witness what is happening without over-identifying with the stories and emotions associated.

When faced with a challenge, we can harness all three of these elements to most effectively navigate what we are going through. But what does this look like in practice?

Share Self-Compassion With Others As A Certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

If you find yourself struggling and your inner critic is taking up all the breathing space, consider the following steps to practice self-compassion. This outlines a simple self-guided meditation for self-compassion that incorporates the three components listed above:

Take a moment to ground yourself.

The first step for practicing self-compassion is to simply ground into the present moment. This helps to set the stage for mindful awareness of your challenges. Note where you are by feeling into the earth beneath you and then by witnessing a few breaths moving through your body. Set all mental stories aside for a moment.

Acknowledge that you are suffering.

Next, recognize the fact that you are suffering. Whatever you are going through, note the difficulty of this experience. You do not need to deny it nor latch onto the stories that this suffering tells. You do not need to compare it to another person’s suffering; simply recognize it as the suffering that it is. Simply note:

I am struggling right now.
This experience is difficult for me.
I am having a hard time with this.

Mindfulness at this stage will help you to remain aware of your current challenges without becoming swept away by them. Stick with straightforward statements of recognition without going into explanations, blaming, or any other stories your mind might weave.

Recognize that you are not alone in your suffering

Next, note that whatever you are experiencing is a part of being human. Though the experience likely feels very personal to you now, there are many others struggling with the same feelings that you are. This can help you to overcome any thoughts that might suggest there is something abnormal about your experience. Suffering is entirely human and entirely normal.

Consider the compassion you would offer to someone you love.

Think about someone you love and imagine that they were experiencing what you are now. How would you treat them? What words of support would you offer? What would your body language or overall energy be like? You can unblock yourself, express love and compassion through heart chakra affirmations. Note what compassion would look like in this situation if you were tending to the struggles of someone you care about dearly.

Offer yourself that same loving kindness.

Finally, direct the compassion you envisioned in the last step towards yourself. What words might you need to hear right now? How might you shift your posture in order to be more embracing of yourself? Is there any healing touch you can offer to yourself, such as a hand on the heart?

Consider the following self-compassion statements to enhance your practice. Silently repeat to yourself any statement that feels genuinely nourishing for you:

I am here for you.
I am supporting you.
I see you.
May I be kind to myself.
May I accept myself.
I love you.
I forgive you.

self-compassion exercises, Boost the Relationship with yourself with 8 Self-Compassion Exercises

Self-Compassion Resources

If you are struggling with self-compassion, you do not need to harness this skill on your own. There are many resources to facilitate your ability to tend to yourself with greater love, care, and kindness. Explore the following self-compassion resources as you feel called to:

This meditation for self-compassion is a guided, in-depth version of the practice outlined above. Chris Germer leads this soothing practice, which is broken down into three parts: mindful awareness, remembering we are not alone, and offering kindness.

This mindfulness worksheet is a journal exercise that invites you to write a letter of care and kindness to yourself – from the point of view of someone who loves you. This exercise can help us tune into our innate capacity for self-compassion.

Another great resource for harnessing self-compassion is this talk by Tara Brach. In this talk, Brach helps us to better understand what it means to self-love. She highlights how and why we often get locked into anxiety, mistrust, and conditioned reactivity.

This guided meditation for self-compassion is a practice for working with strong emotions. It invites us to locate the emotion we are experiencing within the physical body and to soften it around its edges. This practice invites us to acknowledge the difficulty of our emotions and to tend to ourselves with compassion.

Another meditation for self-compassion by Kristin Neff, this practice focuses on the mindfulness technique of body scanning. It reminds us to be gentle and tender towards ourselves as we explore whatever is present for us in this moment. It invites us to embrace the fullness of our humanity.

This worksheet outlines how to take a simple self-compassion break. For this practice, you are invited to first read through the instructions and then work through them on your own. At the end of your self-guided meditation, write down how it felt to practice, along with any ideas about how you can incorporate this exercise into your daily life.

A variant on the traditional loving-kindness practice, this meditation is tailored to focus specifically on self-compassion. It invites us to repeat the following set of self-compassion statements:

May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I be kind to myself.
May I accept myself as I am.

Lastly, one final meditation for self-compassion that you might consider is this short guided practice led by Sean Fargo. It invites us to call a challenging situation to mind, to acknowledge it, and to offer ourselves loving statements in the face of our difficulties.

By practicing self-compassion, we begin to develop a more harmonious relationship with ourselves. Having self-compassion does not mean that we will never face challenges; it simply means that we are kind and tender towards ourselves as we navigate the difficulties of being human. After all, we all face difficulties as we navigate this ever-changing life experience. Self-compassion exercises help us to love ourselves throughout the journey.

FAQ on Self-Compassion Exercises

Can anyone practice self-compassion exercises?

Yes, self-compassion is for anyone. We all deserve to receive our own care, kindness, and support. That said, if you’re new to self-compassion, it may feel uncomfortable at first. There might even be very strong resistance. Open to these practices slowly, allowing your self-compassion to unfold as gently and naturally as a flower blooms in spring.

How often should I practice self-compassion exercises?

Ideally, you’ll want to practice self-compassion everyday - even if not in the form of a formal meditation. Anytime you notice you’re being harsh or judgmental with yourself, that’s an opportunity to send yourself patience, curiosity, and care. You can practice formal self-compassion exercises as often as suits your schedule.

How do I know which self-compassion exercises are right for me?

The only way to know which self-compassion exercises are right for you is to try them. As you explore various practices, pay attention to how they shift the way you relate to yourself. They should help you to build more kindness for yourself; however, you may still experience discomfort within that process. If a practice feels uncomfortable but you’re able to move through it while staying regulated, it is likely to be helpful in the long run. However, if your nervous system feels dysregulated, shift your attention for a while to anchors and practices that feel grounding for you.

How often should I practice self-compassion exercises to see results?

There is no set frequency for how often you should be practicing these types of exercises. We are all unique and we enter into these practices with a different ‘baseline’ of self-compassion. Incorporate them as often as you can without putting too much pressure on yourself.

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About the author 

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]